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AEW Full Gear Review (19/11/2023)

By Mick Robson

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I find the discourse around AEW really interesting. Depending on who you talk to, it's either the best or worst thing to happen to wrestling ever, with more skewing towards the latter in recent months since CM Punk got himself shit-canned. The opinions rarely have nuance and fly into extremes. I know Twitter/X has character limits, but damn! Ahh, tribalism.

I'm one of those dirty fence-sitters. I enjoy both WWE and AEW, but I will acknowledge that some of the All Elite criticisms have merit. Too many championships, especially with the integration of ROH and NJPW muddying the waters. Tony Khan books his "dream matches" on a whim with little thought to story or build-up. And he really needs to pull his head in when it comes to announcements, or at least consult a dictionary on what the words "huge", "major", and "important" mean.

That said, whether you love or hate All Elite Wrestling, it's hard to deny that they put on quality PPV shows. When the focus is mostly on the in-ring stuff with a larger stage, AEW shines. Their weekly product- which often sees them put on crazy matches for the sake of it, and most people don't remember them a week later because it all blurs together- could use some work. But AEW Full Gear 2023 sure looked like a strong show on paper.

One of the more ridiculous criticisms of AEW is that they don't do stories at all. The main event feud for Full Gear flies into the face of that on a couple of levels. After a middling start to his AEW career, long-time New Japan standout Jay White firmly cemented himself as a player in the AEW main event scene by being one of the key players in the new weekly show, Collision, particularly stepping up when CM Punk was ousted. He formed Bullet Club Gold alongside Juice Robinson and The Gunns, and became a thorn in the side of world champion MJF, stealing his custom Big Burberry Belt (the Triple B). They officially clash for the championship to close this show.

But that's not all. The last several months have seen a character shift for Maxwell Jacob Friedman. The despised heel has become a good guy through his partnership with Adam Cole, known as Better Than You Bay-Bay. He's still a bit of a dick, and a scumbag, but now he's Your Scumbag. Adam Cole went down with an ankle injury, forcing MJF to defend their ROH Tag Team Championship solo, while still being a fighting AEW Champion against top talent like Kenny Omega.

Then there's the mystery of The Devil. A person in a devil mask attacked Jay White and his crew in the lead up to this match, and has been popping up in random videos for weeks. The mask is identical to the one MJF has previously used in big PPV entrances, but he claims the mask was stolen from his bag. Possible candidates for the identity of The Devil include Adam Cole (is he really injured?), Jack Perry, CM Punk and even Britt Baker have been thrown out there.

So a lot to sink our teeth into when it comes to Full Gear 2023. Without any further ado...

Let's do this!


Zero Hour Pre-Show

Match 1: ROH World Championship- Eddie Kingston (c) def. Jay Lethal (w/ Jeff Jarrett, Karen Jarrett, Satnam Singh & Sonjay Dutt) (at 10:55)

Match 2: Claudio Castagnoli def. Buddy Matthews (at 10:30)

Match 3: ROH Tag Team Championship- MJF (c) & Samoa Joe def. The Gunns (at 9:25)

At this stage, not reviewing each match on the pre-show. They happened, they were okay. Might come back and edit, might not.

MJF accepted Samoa Joe's help to replace Adam Cole for the night as his tag partner, but now owes him a world title shot as a result. Post-match, MJF was brutally attacked and taken out of the arena in an ambulance. As he left, he yelled to Adam Cole, "Don't let them take my title!"


Main PPV Card

Match 1: Adam Copeland, Darby Allin & STIIIIIIIIIING def. Christian Cage, Luchasaurus & Nick Wayne (at 15:10)

Thoughts: The entrances for this were immense. Christian's group is now called The Patriarchy, and he had a children's choir harmonizing to his theme. Oh, and the countdown graphics were accompanied by descriptors of Christian such as "inspirational", "wise" and "loved". On the babyface side, we had cohesion as all three men wore Sting/Darby style face paint, with Copeland style trench coats. Immense, added to the big fight feel.

As for the match, huge reaction when Copeland and Cage faced off, only for Cage to immediately tag out to the big man, Luchasaurus. Darby threw himself like a wrecking ball, and when it was time for the babyfaces to get the shine, poor young Nick Wayne took the brunt of the beating. Double Scorpion Death Drop by Sting & Copeland (I really have to stop myself from writing "Edge" every time), Coffin Drop by Darby, scene.

Post-match, Sting soaked up the love from the crowd. He's definitely getting around in a little more laboured fashion since seemingly turning back the clock in his AEW in-ring debut a couple of years ago. He will officially call it a career at Revolution 2024, and what a career it's been. (***1/2)

Tony Schiavone is out on the stage with an animated Jay White. Apparently, MJF is not cleared to wrestle... so White gets the title by forfeit?! Just as Schiavone is about to officially announce the ridiculousness, Adam Cole's music hits, and he limps out on his crutches. If MJF can't compete.... Cole will take his place. Well, that's just nuts. AEW's medical team won't clear Max, but Cole can hobble into a match? Unless the match begins and he reveals he's actually fine, or... I dunno. Whatever. Jay White happily accepts the "challenge".

Match 2: AEW International Championship- Orange Cassidy (c) def. Jon Moxley (at 12:05)

Thoughts: A relatively short match compared to my expectations, but Mox still managed to bust himself open. I'm 99% sure it's written into his contract at this point. Lots of punches and headbutts, decidedly more gritty than a typical Orange Cassidy match. We do get some dives and big DDTs, and also a Redrum- shout out to HOOK, who is in OC's corner. Cassidy lands about 5 Orange Punches, followed by the Beach Break, for the clean win! Good for Cassidy, who remains the workhorse of the division, while Mox is sure to be up the card, even in this loss. (***)

Mark Briscoe joins the Continental Classic- AEW's take on a G1 tournament- starting this Wednesday (Thurs in Australia) on Dynamite.

Match 3: AEW Women's Championship- "Timeless" Toni Storm (w/ Luther) def. Hikaru Shida (c) (at 10:25)

Thoughts: I feel a little for Shida, who keeps having these brief, transitional reigns after carrying the division through the pandemic, but undoubtedly, the "Timeless" one is the best thing happening in AEW, and it was great to see her be successful in her "Hollywood Homecoming" at the KIA Forum. It wasn't without shenanigans, as Shida copped a shoe to the head. Luther tried to interfere, but Shida destroyed him with a kendo stick. Ultimately, Storm shoved a silver plate into her tights and hit a hip attack for the win. Can only imagine how much they could sell that plate online for. Great to see this new character of Storm atop the division. (***)

Backstage, Renee Paquette interviewed Eddie Kingston. He's taking part in the Continental Classic, and he's raising the stakes- he's putting his ROH World Championship and NJPW Strong Openweight Championship on the line in every match in the round robin tournament. Apparently the winner of the tournament also gets the Continental Championship? Hopefully it's more of a symbolic prize, AEW doesn't need any more active championships.

Match 5: AEW Tag Team Championship Ladder Match- Ricky Starks & Big Bill (c) def. LFI, FTR & The Kings of the Black Throne (at 20:35)

Thoughts: This was made a ladder match last minute 'cause reasons, but it was still a lot of fun. Lots of crash and burn big spots, with the Kings of the Black Throne particularly revelling in the violence. Some big falls and hard hits with the ladders, but not as much crazy high-flying as one might typically expect from a ladder match. Of all people, it was Wheeler with a top rope splash on Brody King on the outside, who was lying on a ladder bridge. Amongst the carnage, Starks and Bill managed to snag the belts back, but this was a car crash in a fun way. Not a ladder classic by any means, but certainly delivered high octane action. (***1/2)

The commentary team confirm what Kingston was saying earlier- the winner of the Continental Classic will be a "modern-day Triple Crown champion".

Match 6: AEW TBS Championship- Julia Hart def. Kris Statlander (c) & Skye Blue (at 11:20)

Thoughts: Skye had new music and a slightly darker, but still blue outfit. The effects of that stupid House of Black mist. Anyway, the action was fast and furious here. Statlander played the confident champion, showcasing her power. Skye got a great near fall following a Code Blue that looked really good, after a few awkward ones lately. It seemed like Statlander had the match won following Saturday Night Fever, but Hart swooped in with a clothesline and stole the pin. This was a fun outing and I'm keen to see how the young Julia handles the responsibility of being champion of the TBS division. (***1/4)

Tony Schiavone is in the ring with a contract in hand. It's time to introduce AEW's newest signing- it's Will Ospreay! He walks out to his "Elevated" theme song- super important- and gets a good reaction from the crowd. He begins with some bad news- he's not starting just yet. He's finishing his New Japan commitments- they gave him a shot at 22, and he's now 30. But he'll be there on the road to Revolution (i.e. after Wrestle Kingdom). But he's All Elite, and looks forward to Tony Khan lining up top competition for him... especially at Wembley. Weird to announce it now and not after Wrestle Kingdom. Only thing I can think of is not wanting to give WWE any kind of Ospreay related buzz heading towards Rumble season. A great signing though. Seen some say that it doesn't pack a punch because he's been on AEW TV before- but nah. Most of that was build to Forbidden Door shows, with the only exception being build for the one-off All In London super-show.

Match 7: Texas Death Match- Swerve Strickland def. Hangman Page (at 29:55)

Thoughts: This was extremely violent. Swerve gets busted open early and Hangman drinks his blood stream. Wild. Page also uses a staple gun multiple times, and eventually Swerve Hulks Up through it, making him look badass. There's barbed wire as well. Hangman hits a fall-away slam with Swerve wrapped in barbed wire, then a Buckshot. Swerve is a mess, but after Prince Nana and Brian Cage interfered, Swerve used a cinder block then a chain to hang Page and end the war. Suitably brutal given the intensity of the feud, and elevated this whole show a few notches. (****1/2)

Match 8: The Golden Jets (Kenny Omega & Chris Jericho) def. The Young Bucks (at 20:45)

Thoughts: I feel like it took the crowd a few minutes to get on board after that incredible Texas Death Match, but once they were, this was another brilliant outing. It mostly played with the Elite in-fighting between Omega and The Bucks, with Jericho serving as a disruptor. At 53, Jericho isn't the athlete he was, but in this tag format, was able to interject himself at the right points to look on par with wrestlers 10-15 years his junior. Lots of big moves, and Jericho played the face in peril with the Bucks working over his arm, looking to remove the Judas Effect finisher from the equation. The Young Bucks weren't afraid to play up being heels in their home state, throwing a tantrum after losing clean to Omega's One Winged Angel, and it was just a great bit of work from four- pardon the pun- elite pros. With this, Omega and Jericho take the Bucks' tag title shot. (****)

Adam Cole makes his entrance for the main event world title match. He has his wrist tape and his ROH Tag Team Championship belt, but otherwise no ring gear, still on crutches. A supremely confident Jay White enters with The Gunns, Justin Roberts makes the ring announcements, but before the ref can call for the bell, we hear ambulance sirens... MJF is driving the vehicle back into the arena! He limps into the ring with his thigh taped up.

Main Event: AEW World Championship- MJF (c) (w/ Adam Cole) def. Jay White (at 29:45)

Thoughts: The structure of this felt weird, but in the end it worked. MJF was a massive underdog, but still more functional than Adam Cole seemingly. He slapped White defiantly to start the match, and was immediately chopblocked and worked over. The champ fought from underneath for much of the match, doing a great job of selling the leg pain and trying to overcome it. All through the match, Cole was encouraging him at ringside- but commentary pointed out that he might be a distraction- and he was also cheering/advising things that weren't smart considering MJF's condition- such as dives and a Panama Sunrise.

Ultimately, MJF would take a big chance in the one big botch of the match- it was meant to be a top rope elbow drop through the announce table, which collapsed the moment Max put White on it. He did the elbow onto the table remains anyway, not missing a beat. After some nail biting near falls, and shenanigans on both sides, including a REF BUMP! With no official, Max gets the Dynamite Diamond Ring, first provided by Cole and briefly in the possession of White, smashes The Gunns, who ran back out after being ejected early, then Swiitchblade takes the loaded punch for the 3 count! (****1/4)

Again, weird feeling match. I kept expected a turn by Adam Cole or some kind of Devil-related craziness to end the show, but we fade to black with a battered but happy Better Than You Bay-Bay celebrating on the stage. What would be the point of all the injury angles for this match if we just end on the status quo. I still think we're headed for a turn, but maybe we take a detour with Samoa Joe's title shot over the next few weeks... then surely the penny has to drop before World's End- a PPV happening two days before MJF"s contract "expires".

Overall Thoughts

Another strong PPV outing for AEW. It, like every other AEW PPV, suffers for being an exercise in overindulgence. Including the pre-show, it was a 5 hour show. That said, what we were given was very high quality, peaking with the final 3 matches and the Will Ospreay announcement- which I do think meets the criteria of being a "big deal". The main event story felt all over the place, but I was expecting a pay-off here that didn't come, so I'll reserve judgement for the next few weeks to see if the chips do fall into place. AEW have a very talented roster, they just need to stick the landing on their stories and realise that, just sometimes, less is indeed more.

Overall Score: 8/10

Until next time, take care.


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Who's Behind The Blog
Image of Mick Robson, founder of The Arena Media

Mick Robson is a freelance writer from Australia. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling and MMA, he endeavours to bring that passion through his coverage in news, reviews and opinion pieces.

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